According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Monday, January 27, 2014

Generational Poverty in America: Bootstraps, Safety Nets, and Dave Ramsey

Rachel's sister Amanda

Bootstraps and Safety Nets: Some thoughts on generational poverty in America
http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/bootstraps-and-safety-nets-some-thoughts-on-generational-poverty-in-america

by Rachel Held Evans
January 27, 2014

You all are in for a treat today because my brilliant, compassionate, and wise little sister, Amanda Opelt, has contributed a guest post about generational poverty in America that is both powerful and practical. The post materialized after a long phone conversation between us in the wake of my controversial post about Dave Ramsey and poverty (see next article below), at which point I realized my sister knew way more about this topic than I did.

Amanda has spent most of her adult life working in the non-profit sector—first in India, then in inner-city Nashville, and now in Boone, North Carolina, as a field support coordinator for Samaritan’s Purse. But more than that, Amanda embodies more than anyone I know the principle of loving one’s neighbor. No matter where she finds herself, she is present and loving to the people around her, whether it’s an orphan suffering from TB in a slum in Hyderabad, India, or an elderly neighbor down the street from her home in Boone. When it comes to following Jesus, she’s the real deal. She's faithful in the little things.

I hope you learn as much from her post as I did!


* * * * * * * * * *

The biggest problem facing Christian theology is not translation but enactment...no clever
theological moves can be substituted for the necessity of a church being a community of 
people who embody our language about God, where talk about God is used without
apology because our life together does not mock our words.

- Hauerwas & Willimon

* * * * * * * * * *

Immediately after college, I packed my bags and moved to India because at age 22 I thought I "had a heart" for the poor.

I figured India was probably a pretty good place to find poor people, and I was right.  The poverty in that foreign land is pervasive, and in a country where corruption and ideological biases cultivate very little opportunity for upward mobility, it's not hard to see the orphans, beggars, and leprosy patients around you as one-dimensional victims of the sinful systems around them.  It is a fair assessment in some ways, and I must say, loving the people of India came easy. Though their stories were gut-wrenching, my heart felt no complication in its compulsion to serve them.

But after 6 months, I realized that my educational emphasis in philosophy made the relief and development work to which I aspired demanding on my skill sets.  I packed my bags again and came home to my moderately privileged lifestyle the US, confused about my calling and certain I was destined to live a life languishing apathetically in my middle-class routine.

A job search led me to a position as a ministry-based social worker for an organization that provided job skills, mentoring, childcare and Bible study for low income women in the inner city of Nashville.

I'll admit I was skeptical at first.  I didn't know the first thing about urban poverty. Like many Americans, I felt a certain sense of indifference towards poor in America, and there was maybe, buried deep in my subconscious, even a mild contempt.  I had this sneaking suspicion that the poor in my own country couldn't possibly be like the poor I had encountered in India.  This was the birthplace of the American Dream, a place where anyone who had a will to try and a strong work ethic could improve his or her lot in life.

Someone once told me that animal shelters have an easier time fundraising than homeless shelters, and sadly, I’m not surprised.  Animals aren't too complicated, and they are one-dimensional in their in-culpability. 

There is a more complex emotional reaction to the homeless in America.  There is the compulsion to wonder, "why can't they just get a job?!"  When one is born in the Land of Opportunity, it is easy to assume that the birthright of every American is to have and equal opportunity and a decent shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What is opportunity?  What does it mean to be poor?

Most middle class Americans are familiar with circumstantial poverty—one bad investment or the loss of a job leads to a period of financial difficulty.  What I learned in the inner city is that to be caught in the cycle of generational poverty is to experience a bankruptcy of spirit, a deficit of hope.  It is poverty of education, community, safety, health, and spiritual guidance.

I met a woman whose first memories were of being locked up in a closet while her mother, a prostitute, "entertained" her guests. I met a woman who, as a little girl, watched a cross burn in her front yard and endured teachers at her new school shouting racial slurs at her because the community around her was angry about integration.  I cried with women who remember in excruciatingly vivid detail, sexual and physical abuse suffered at the hands of relatives and friends, abuse that would go on for years unstopped. These were children, many with developmental and learning disabilities due to instability during their earliest years, that were pushed through failing schools with burned out teachers and deteriorating textbooks and facilities.

Abuse, racism, corruption; we all experience these hardships to a varying degree.  But for the low-income women I worked with, their lives were a perpetual house of cards.  They had no resources, no safety nets to keep them from going under.  One step forward, two steps back.  A broken down car means you can't get to work, and missing even one day of work means you can’t make rent that month. A sick child means you can get fired from a job that keeps you at "part time" status because they don't want to pay you for sick days and holidays.  Finally getting out of the welfare system means losing any childcare assistance, and childcare costs often break the bank.  I knew a woman who wouldn't break up with her abusive boyfriend because he was her only ride to work.  I'm not saying there is no such thing as bad decisions, but we all make bad decisions and only some of us have to face the full force of their consequences.

When we hear the term “safety net,” most of us think of social safety nets like food stamps or medicaid.  But when I think of safety nets in my own life, I think of parents who were willing to pitch in a bit to help me pay rent my first month in my own place.  I think of a successful elementary school and several teachers who really cared and invested some extra time to make sure I didn't fail algebra.  I think of a safe and secure community where I could run and play outside.  I think of a caring doctor who helped when I was going through a difficult mental and physical health challenge (and health insurance that enabled me to pay him).

This month marks the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's Declaration of the War on Poverty.  While we have come a long way since Johnson made that historic speech [in 1967], in 2011 the U.S Bureau of Labor conducted a study and found that 46.2 million Americans (roughly 15% of the population) lived at or below the poverty line. Many of those individuals are children (Poverty defined is a family of four making $23,021). And for anyone who ever wondered "why can't they just get a job?" you'll be interested to know that 10.4 million of these Americans are considered the working poor.  In fact, the working poor made up 7 % of the work force in the US.  Most of these were workers stuck in part time jobs, and women were more likely to be among the working poor, as were blacks and Hispanics (www.bls.gov).

I did the math and found that someone working full time at the current minimum wage (assuming they had paid sick days) would only make $15,080 a year.  This was the painful reality of so many of my students in the inner city of Nashville.  Bottom line: it's just not as simple as "stop being lazy" or "just get a job." I wish I could provide some clear-cut resolution, a silver bullet solution that churches across America could implement to serve the needy. A few women I really respect have showed me that the only way to cultivate effective change in the lives of those in need is to become, yourself, a sort of safety net for them. The resource, the friend, the positive voice, the math tutor, the spiritual mentor they never had. It's complicated, and it can be messy. But Jesus never seemed to mind a mess, and no one he ever healed or scolded or cried for or embraced had a simple story.

The complexity of the need of the human heart is something only God can know.  But perhaps the first step is to begin the process of tweaking your understanding, to realize that the playing field is not always level and not everyone was born with bootstraps.  Before you judge the circumstances of those around you, consider the humbling reality of a sovereign God who "sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor" (1 Samuel 2:7-8).

* * * * * * * * * *

To learn more about the organization Amanda served in Nashville, check out the Christian Women’s Job Corps of Middle Tennessee. CWJC empowers individuals to break harmful cycles caused by poverty by providing education, mentoring and resources. Their vision is “to create a community where all individuals can experience transformation of body, mind, heart, and spirit.”



Financial advisor Dave Ramsey is also an evangelical Christian.


What Dave Ramsey gets wrong about poverty

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN
November 30, 2013

(CNN)– Dave Ramsey is rich. And he makes his living telling other evangelical Christians how they can get rich, too.

Host of a nationally syndicated radio program and author of multiple best-selling books, Ramsey targets evangelical Christians with what he calls a “biblical” approach to financial planning, one that focuses primarily on the elimination of consumer debt. His for-profit Financial Peace University is billed as “a biblically based curriculum that teaches people how to handle money God's ways."

Much of what Ramsey teaches is sound, helpful advice, particularly for middle-class Americans struggling with mounting credit card bills. I have celebrated with friends as they’ve marked their first day of debt-free living, thanks in part to Dave Ramsey’s teachings and all those white envelopes of cash he urges his students to use instead of credit cards.

But while Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical.

Take, for example, a recent article by Tim Corley posted to Ramsey’s website. Entitled “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day,” the article presents some dubious statistics comparing the habits of the rich with the habits of the poor, including:
  • “70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.”
  • “76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.”
  • “63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.”
One need not be a student of logic to observe that Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.

For example, a poor person might not exercise four days a week because, unlike a rich person, she cannot afford a gym membership. Or perhaps she has to work two jobs to earn a living wage, which leaves her little time and energy for jogging around the park.

A poor family may eat more junk food, not because they are lazy and undisciplined, but because they live in an economically disadvantaged, urban setting where health food stores are not as available: a so-called “food desert.”

Critics were swift to point out these discrepancies and among the critics were some of Ramsey’s fellow evangelical Christians who also noted that, though the book of Proverbs certainly heralds success as a common return on faithful labor, nowhere does the Bible guarantee that good habits lead to wealth.

The writer of Ecclesiastes observed that "under the sun the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent,
nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all."

And far from having contempt for the poor, Jesus surrounded himself with the needy and challenged the excesses of the rich:

“Blessed are you who are poor,” he said, “for yours is the kingdom of God.
… But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle," Jesus famously said, "than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

It’s hard for the wealthy to flourish in the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated because the economy of that kingdom runs so contrary to the economies of the world. It rewards the peacemakers over the powerful, the humble over the proud, the kind over the cruel, and those who hunger to do the right thing over those whose wealth has convinced them they already are.

Ramsey responded to the pushback with an addendum to the original post calling his critics “ignorant” and “immature” and instructing them to “grow up.”

“This list simply says your choices cause results,” he said, again committing the false cause fallacy. “You reap what you sow.”

The list, he said, applies only to people living in “first world” countries, where Ramsey believes economic injustices are essentially nonexistent. While the poor in developing countries are so as a result of external circumstances beyond their control, the poor in the United States have no one to blame but themselves.

“If you are broke or poor in the U.S. or a first-world economy, the only variable in the discussion you can personally control is YOU,” Ramsey says. “You can make better choices and have better results.”

America, he argues, has prospered as a direct result of its “understanding and application of biblical truths” which have led to “life-changing industry, inventions and a standard of living never known before on this planet.”

“There is a direct correlation,” he concludes, “between your habits, choices and character in Christ and your propensity to build wealth.”

For Christians, Ramsey’s perceived “direct correlation” between faith and wealth should be more troubling than his other confused correlations, for it flirts with what Christians refer to as the prosperity gospel, the teaching that God rewards faithfulness with wealth.

Ramsey’s particular brand of prosperity gospel elevates the American dream as God’s reward for America’s faithfulness, the spoils of which are readily available to anyone who works hard enough to receive them.

But such a view glosses over the reality that America was not, in fact, founded upon purely Christian principles (unless one counts slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender inequity, and Jim Crow as Christian principles), so we should be careful of assuming our relative wealth reflects God’s favor. (The Roman Empire was wealthy, too, after all.)

It also glosses over the reality that economic injustice is not, in fact, limited to the developing world but plagues our own country as well.
  • When medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the United States, there are systemic injustices at work.
  • When people working 40-hour weeks at minimum wage jobs still can’t earn enough to support their families, there are systemic injustices at work.
  • When approximately 1% of Americans hold 40% of the nation’s wealth, there are systemic injustices at work.
  • When the black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for the past 50 years, there are systemic injustices at work.
  • And throughout Scripture, people of faith are called not simply to donate to charity, but to address such systemic injustices in substantive ways.
The 17-year-old girl who lives in a depressed neighborhood zoned for a failing school system who probably won’t graduate because her grades are suffering because she has to work part-time to help support her family needs more than a few audio books to turn things around.

People are poor for a lot of reasons, and choice is certainly a factor, but categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only un-informed, it’s un-biblical.

God does not divide the world into the deserving rich and the undeserving poor. In fact, the brother of Jesus wrote that God has “chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him” (James 2:5).

God does not bless people with money; God blesses people with the good and perfect gift of God’s presence, which is available to rich and poor alike.

And that’s good news.


Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com. The views expressed in this column belong to Rachel Held Evans.

 - CNN Belief Blog



When Christians Love Theology More Than People


Holding hands, Mats Bergström / Shutterstock.com

When Christians Love Theology More Than People
http://sojo.net/blogs/2014/01/22/when-christians-love-theology-more-people

January 22, 2014

Beyond the realm of churches, religious blogs, and bible colleges, nobody really cares about theology. What does matter is the way you treat other people.

Within Christendom, we’re often taught the exact opposite: that doctrines, traditions, theologies, and distinct beliefs are the only things that do matter. It’s what separates churches, denominations, theologians, and those who are “saved” and “unsaved.”

Historically, Christians have been tempted to categorize the Bible into numerous sets of beliefs that are either inspired or heretical, good or bad, right or wrong — with no room for doubt or questioning or uncertainty.

It’s easy to get caught up in theorizing about God, but within our everyday lives reality is what matters most to the people around us. Theorizing only becomes important once it becomes relevant and practical and applicable to our lives.

When I'm sick, and you bring me a meal, I don't care whether you're a Calvinist or Arminian.

When I'm poor, and you give me some food and money, I don't care if you're pre-millennial or post-millennial.

When I'm in the hospital, and you send me a get-well basket, I don't care what your church denomination is.

When you visit my grandparents in the nursing home, I don't care what style of worship music you listen to.

When you're kind enough to shovel my parent's driveway, I don't care what translation of the Bible you read.

When you give my friend a lift when their car breaks down, I don't care if you’re Baptist or Catholic.

When you help my grandmother carry a heavy load of groceries, I don't care what you believe about evolution.

When you protect my kids from getting hit by a car when they're running across the street, I don't care who your favorite theologian is.

When you’re celebrating my birthday with me, I don’t care about your views related to baptism.

When you grieve alongside me during the death of a family member, I don’t care if you tithe or not.

When you love me in deep and meaningful and authentic ways — nothing else really matters.

But when you idolize belief systems and turn theology into an agenda, it poisons the very idea of selfless love. 

The gospel message turns into propaganda, friends turn into customers, and your relationship with God turns into a religion.

You may have the most intellectually sound theology, but if it's not delivered with love, respect, and kindness — it's worthless.

The practical application of your love is just as important as the theology behind it. Our faith is evidenced by how we treat others. Does the reality of your life reflect the theory behind your spiritual beliefs?

We should never give up on theology, academic study, or the pursuit of understanding God, the Bible, and the history and traditions of the church, but these things should inspire us to emulate Christ — to selflessly, sacrificially, and holistically love others. Theology should reinforce our motivation for doing things to make the world a better place — not serve as platforms to berate, criticize, and attack others.

But too often, we’re guilty of failing to practically apply our beliefs in tangible ways that actually help others. 

In the end, this is what matters most to the world around us: that we simply love as Christ loved.


Stephen Mattson has contributed for Relevant Magazine and the Burnside Writer's Collective,and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Image: Holding hands, Mats Bergström / Shutterstock.com